THE IMMORTAL HORSE • by Suzanne Warr

My robes stuck to my sweaty skin. “You’ll never get away with it.” My voice cracked, and I tried to deepen it. “No matter what you think of my magic skills, a magician is not without friends.”

The MasterSmith didn’t answer, just grabbed me by my bound hands and heaved me out of his way.

I landed hard up against a pile of scrap metal. The lumpy ache forming on my right ear was a reminder of the smith’s strong arm, and kept me still in the corner.

On the far side of the room, next to the roaring furnace, stood the iron horse that the smith intended me for. An immortal steed, that was what the smith sought, and I was to provide the life force he needed to animate the metallic beast. The smith had to have a magician so the soul could be guided into a new body, but he needed a lousy magician who had little value to the academy. He thought he had the perfect candidate in me, and had slipped a bit of Inress powder into my drink. The small trickle of magic I could usually access was out of my reach, like the warmth of a hearth fire seen through a locked window.

The smith held a long rod with a bit of molten glass stuck on the end. He spun it at a steady pace inside a smaller hole at the top of the furnace. He pulled it free, swung the glassy end in a pendulum arc, then worked it with a tool before returning it to the flames.

“You know, your skills are quite admired at the academy.” I shifted, and laid the flattery on a little thicker. “The Head Magician himself has spoken of commissioning you to make a metallic spider, perhaps as a prototype for a whole army of spiders.”

The smith grunted, but continued his work on the glass.

“In fact, we’re quite close to a breakthrough. A way to sustain the magic thread while inside a metallic creation. Soon you’ll be able to animate your horse without risking the wrath of the Academy.”

The smith shook his head. “Don’t want the magicians to animate my horse. A beast that’s not self-sustaining and independent is a flawed product. Your soul will do much better.”

At the mention of his plans my head began to throb painfully. I took refuge in logic. “It’s not a comparison of one imperfect possibility with a perfect one, it’s a question of which goal is attainable. The Academy will never let you get away with the abduction and disembodiment of a magician. And even without their retaliation, how do you know it will work? This is beyond your experience — a risky venture from every angle.”

While I spoke, the smith fitted bits of glass into the eye sockets of the horse. When he finished he clamped a pair of tongs tight over a red hot metal hex and turned toward me.

I heard myself babbling. “You’ll never get away with it, they’ll hunt you down, take your — ”

He shoved a gag in my mouth. The hex loomed before my eyes. I kicked, thrashed. The smith dragged me to the furnace, and I felt the heat flare against my back.

The smith pressed a knee into my chest and heated his hex to a searing white, then slapped the fiery brand to my skin. I screamed into the gag, but my mind quickly passed into a numbed state, bringing distance from the pain. I felt myself rising out of my body and looked down upon it.

The smith moved the hex and my sense of self followed. He smacked it against the iron flank of the horse and I mentally flinched in sympathy. Then I was within the horse and the pain on its flank was my pain.

I tried to kick and found myself to be hobbled, tried to bite and discovered the bit in my mouth was tied to a ring. Then the pain lessened, and I saw that the smith had run to the small window across the shop.

The sound of a troop of horses approaching came from outside. Help, at last!

The smith grabbed a pack which he threw across my withers. He removed the hobbles from my feet and I kicked, my hooves ringing against the stone of the furnace surround.

The smith came toward me with a red-hot poker from the fire. He jumped on, yanked my head free, then slapped the poker against my flank. My soul flinched inside the hot metal casing of the horse’s body.

I leapt forward and charged through the back door, out into the smithy yard.

The smith twisted my head around to face the road.

The horses I’d heard were ridden by a group of merchants, traveling together for safety. They paid us no attention.

The smith laughed aloud, and slapped the poker against my flanks, driving me forward. But as I approached the stream running behind the yard I stopped short and flung my hindquarters up into the air.

The smith sailed off, his poker flying, and landed in the stream. I felt for my magic, and discovered that without my puny human body blocking its flow, the small glow had become a sun at noonday. Never had I dreamed of having access to magic like this.

I looked around me at the discarded metal creatures the smith had left in the yard, and sent sparks of magic into the metal creatures closest to the smith. They filled with the glow of magic and shuddered to life. A tiny monkey snatched up handfuls of nails, while a half-finished gargoyle shook a sharp fragment of scrap like a sword.

My army of metallic creatures marched toward the smith.

I laughed, the snort half human, half horse. “An independent and self-sustaining beast, that’s what you wanted. Aren’t you glad you got away with it?”

Suzanne Warr grew up in an alternate universe which runs parallel to this one but on a much slower timeline. She didn’t get up to speed and attend a traditional school (the kind where one has to sit down and listen) until her teen years, and soon tired of it. She has a history degree from BYU. Through the years she married, dabbled in theatre, acquired a black belt, and welcomed two kids. She also scaled the exterior of a building and worked in a lab dissecting fish eyes — no one quite knows why.

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